Friday, June 27, 2014

Rope (1948)

RopeAlfred Hitchcock's Rope, the first film that the Master of Suspense filmed in Technicolor, has languished in largely undeserved mediocrty since its release in 1948. The film didn't do well theatrically in the US, and subsequent versions (VHS) were made from terrible-quality originals. Finally, Universal has seen fit to release on DVD a marvelously restored version of a truly fine film.

Rope, based on a play of the same name, which was in turn based on a real murder case in 1924, opens with two friends played by John Dall and Farley Granger strangling a classmate with a length of rope. The body is then stuffed in a trunk that the two use as a buffet table during an upcoming dinner party a party partially in their murdered friend's honor.

As the movie progresses, the friends' professor played exceedingly well by James Stewart in one of his best-acted roles eventually begins to suspect the crime. As the two students engage him in a discussion about Nietzschian philosophy, and specifically philosophy of the ubermensch (overman or superman), Stewart's character puts two and two together. The tension is so tight you hold your breath for the last half-hour, wondering if Stewart knows, and if he does, what he's going to do about it and, more importantly, if he's in danger, too.

Much has been made of the technical side of the film Hitch wanted it as close to a stage play as possible, and the entire movie has only nine (well-hidden) breaks as well as the homosexual overtones, but the real genius in Rope comes from the acting and direction. As opposed to today's "roller-coaster ride" action movies, Rope builds slowly, layering tension upon tension until the viewer just can't wait anymore to find out what happens. Anyone can toy with an audience, using special effects, explosions, and fast cars to create action, but true suspense that hourglass feeling of grains of sand building a mountain takes talent, and Rope readily uses that effect, thanks largely to the preformances of the three main characters.

In addition, Stewart's ultimate conclusions on Nietzschian philosophy offer a refreshing step away from those who would indict it solely on the basis of notions (and books) like the Will to Power people who can see no further than the two murderers. Like Hitler and Dall and Granger's characters, some people cannot see past these passages, often taken out of context from the rest of Nietzsche's thought. Thankfully, Arthur Laurentis' screenplay ultimately deals with these ideas in a mature manner and shows the horrifying effects of the hubris so many undergraduate-level students get when they don't bother to read and conside Nietzsche in context.

Universal's DVD is excellent the picture and sound quality are top-notch, especially considering it's been more than 50 years since Rope was filmed. The full-frame presentation isn't a problem, since widescreen movies didn't exist at the time. The half-hour long featurette offers some interesting insights and interviews with a couple members of the cast and crew, and isn't your usual "so-and-so was great" pieces. Hume Cronyn offers some genuine and well-founded criticisms of both Hitch and the finished product. Also included is Rope's unique theatrical trailer, a kind of "mini-short" featuring the soon-to-be-murdered lad discussing a marriage proposal with his girlfriend in Central Park, in surprisingly decent quality considering the film's age.

If you are a fan of Alfred Hitchcock, or just like great acting and pianowire-tight tension, then you can't go wrong with Rope.

Based on an actual murder case and directed by legendary director Alfred Hitchcock, Rope tells the story of two very close, well to do roommates Phillip and Brandon who strangle David, an old school chum, just for kicks. To further increase the exhilaration of their dastardly deed, the duo deem it delicious to desecrate the dead by placing his body into a chest and serving their dinner party guests a banquet on its decorated top. The guests of honor at this most perverse soirée include their former prep school professor Rupert Cadell (James Stewart), the murder victim's parents, his fiancé, and her former boyfriend. This tapestry provides tension for Phillip as he is nervous about being caught and questions abound as to David's whereabouts. Interestingly, Brandon feels smug even justified as he views the act of murder to be relegated to a select superior few.

Rope explores Nietzsche's concept of the "übermensch" or "superman" in which society's people are divided into two groups. Those who believe in the concepts of right and wrong and behave accordingly are deemed inferior beings and therefore unnecessary. While those who are enlightened enough to realize that one is free to act according to their own volition because there are no such primitive or external constraints on behavior are deemed superior. In this worldview, homicide is justifiable because the intellectually superior are actually bettering society by eliminating the inferior and their drain on its resources. The story comes to a head when Professor Cadell who taught Phillip and Brandon these nihilistic concepts begins to suspect that they practiced what he preached by killing David.

Rope was shot with eight; 10-minute reels to give the illusion of one seamless, continuous take. This forces the viewer to pay attention to every word and provides an eerie feeling that he/she is a witness to the murder and is a guest at the dinner party. What also drives the film is its witty if not macabre dialogue that is punctuated with puns, innuendoes and double entendre. It is also interesting to watch the professor engage Phillip and Brandon in the proverbial game of cat and mouse. Likewise, the characters are richly developed and deep.

Rope is Hitchcock's most underrated and unappreciated film. Which is a shame because I believe Rope poses some very provocative questions. Is there sanctity to human life? Are all human beings equal? Is murder ever justifiable? Is there right and wrong? Is moral absolutism an outmoded idea in which only the weak and dumb subscribe? Is a teacher responsible for his/her students' actions? Ultimately, the viewer must decide.

Buy Rope (1948) Now

ROPE is a very experimental-and highly underrated-Hitchcock film. The film (based on the play ROPE'S END and, although loosely, the Leopold-Loeb murder) begins when two young men (John Dall and Farley Granger) murder a college student for fun and because he is a "lesser" man. As a celebration they throw a party inviting the victim's parents, his girlfriend, her ex-boyfriend who Dall would like to put her with, and their old college teacher (James Stewart). ROPE is a highly entertaining and suspenseful film. The experimental angle comes as the film was shot entirely in eight ten-minute takes, (or was that ten eight-minute takes?) giving the impression that it was all one shot. The casting is great, with Dall perfect as the psychotic murderer, Sir Cedric Hardwicke memorable as the victim's father, and Stewart...well, you can't say too many good things about him, though it takes him a while to appear. While not as good as some of Hitchcock's earlier (THE 39 STEPS, REBECCA) or later (VERTIGO, NORTH BY NORTHWEST) masterpieces, ROPE is very well made film, perfect for fans of Hitchcock, Stewart, or suspense films in general.

ROPE's final rating: 9 out of 10

Read Best Reviews of Rope (1948) Here

The first film that Hitchcock released through his Transatlantic Pictures company, Rope is an underappreciate minor classic. It's flawed to be sure but this unusual experiment was shot in long takes an unusual approach for Hitchcock. The story was inspired by the Leopold and Loeb murder case and their obsession with the superman theories of Nietzsche.

Philip (Farley Granger)and Brandon (John Dall)have committed the murder of an old classmate for the thrill of it. They invite over mutual friends, the father and mother of the victim and their old prep school master Rupert (Jimmy Stewart)who first introduced them to Nietzche's theories. They drape a table cloth over the trunk where the dead body rests.

Written by Arthur Laurents and Hume Cronyn from the play Rope's End by Patrick Hamilton, Rope allows Hitchcock to indulge in a number of unusual cinematic experiments. It was Hitchcock's first movie to be shot in color and the entire 80 minute film is shot on one set with the skyline gradually changing. If Hitchcock had gotten his ideal cast the film might have been quite different; originally Hitchcock wanted Carey Grant for the role Stewart player and Montgomery Clift as Brandon.

The transfer is good although there is some edge enhancement and some analog and compression artifacts (although they aren't a huge problem). The vivid 3 strip Technicolor process comes to life on this DVD. The colors are pretty close to the version I saw screened. I should note, though, that I originally saw Rope at the UCLA Theater Arts Archive in black and white (a color copy wasn't available) on a Movieola and it was a nitrate print so I'm comparing it to versions that were released much later than the original.

While Rope isn't a perfect Hitchcock excursion, it's an enjoyable and admirable one that features a number of interesting visuals, strong performances and an interesting thought provoking story. The extras on this edition are quite nice as well including a feaurette entitled Rope Unleased, production photos and notes. Sadly, no extensive outtakes exist for Rope and everything that was written was, for the most part, shot.

Want Rope (1948) Discount?

"Rope" debuted in theaters in August of 1948, and represented the first movie shot in COLOR by Director Alfred Hitchcock.

James Stewart, Farley Granger, and John Dall are the stars here, with Stewart (as always) giving a flawless, effortless-looking performance. I really liked all the character portrayals in this film. Murderers Granger and Dall exhibit just the right mix of "Will we get caught?" angst and the cockiness and sheer gall of those that murder simply for the sport of it.

Although not one of the "higher profile" Alfred Hitchcock entries, I think "Rope" is, in fact, one of his better films. It's certainly unique, style-wise, being filmed in ten-minute, continuous takes, giving it a "seamless" uninterrupted look.

There has been much talk about the supposed "homosexual overtones" between the two murderers in "Rope". Now while I know this to be the director's intention, if I hadn't read about it after seeing the movie, I would never have thought those two male characters were supposed to be homosexual. In my view, *nothing* that is said or done in the film particularly points to this conclusion. I suppose it's designed to be there, but "just beneath the surface". But, I looked at the two killers as merely being close friends. I don't really know why the sexual orientation subject even has to enter into it. And, really, it *doesn't*.

"Rope" is unique in another fashion as well -Hitchcock's "cameo". Unique because we get not one, but TWO, "Hitch" cameos in this picture. Right after the opening credits, we see Alfred walking on the sidewalk below. With cameo appearance #2 (which was originally intended to be his lone cameo) coming 55 minutes into the fairly-short 80-minute film. This second cameo is not of Hitchcock "in the flesh". Instead, the director inserted the image of a flashing neon sign outside one of the windows of the apartment. This sign depicts the famous Hitchcock "profile". A very inventive cameo indeed (rivaling his "newspaper" appearance in "Lifeboat" for the most creative, IMO).

As with a much-later Hitchcock picture, "The Birds", "Rope" has no music score to aid the story and move it along (save the opening theme music and the piano-playing of Farley Granger's character). An entire movie void of music is something that I don't imagine too many directors could pull off. But Hitchcock, in "Rope" and "The Birds" (which was fifteen years later), did it quite successfully.

This Universal single-disc DVD offers up a fine-looking and very clear Full Frame picture (1.33:1 aspect ratio). Colors do look a tad dated, though. But, overall, "Rope" looks excellent here! The soundtrack on the disc is in Mono (Dolby Digital 2.0).

The disc's Menu system is simplistic and easy to use (which is OK by me). When the Main Menu is on screen, the theme from Hitch's TV series, "Alfred Hitchcock Presents", plays. This is nice, but I wonder why they didn't use the "Rope" opening theme music for the Menu?

Although not officially labelled as one of Universal's "Collector's Editions", this "Rope" DVD could very well have been so designated. This disc has very nearly as many Special Features as the other Hitchcock "Collector's" packages. Here's a gander at the "Rope" bonus supplements .................

>> A 32-minute documentary, "Rope Unleashed", covering the making of this motion picture. Included here is an interview with actor/writer Hume Cronyn, who collaborated on the "Rope" screenplay. Sadly, not too very long after filming the interview for this DVD, Mr. Cronyn passed away, in June 2003. Many backstage pictures are mixed in with the interview segments, including some eye-opening pics of the color camera equipment of the era. Color cameras during those days were more than "bulky" -those babies were humongous! And via some still photos we can see just how cumbersome those cameras were, circa 1948.

>> The Original Theatrical Trailer for "Rope". -I absolutely love this unique trailer. It really (in a way) serves as a "deleted scene" from the movie. And shows us the film's murder victim ("David Kentley") before he falls prey to his killers' rope. The trailer has David (played by Dick Hogan) and his fiancee, Janet (Joan Chandler), sitting on a park bench, talking about their upcoming engagement. It's just a short scene, but sets up some of the plot points very nicely in just a few seconds. After David kisses his betrothed and leaves the park, this becomes more of a "conventional" trailer, with star Jimmy Stewart appearing on camera to narrate. Video quality for this color trailer is a bit splotchy and blurry in places, but still certainly in watchable condition. I think the introduction of the murder victim in this "added" scene was a very clever idea by the filmmakers. Trailer length = 2:25.

>> A very nice Photo Gallery (which has many behind-the-camera images).

>> Some text screens with film notes and cast bios. (There's a kind of funny little mistake in the DVD's bio of John Dall. Dall's character is referred to as "Shaw Brandon" on the text screen, instead of the correct name, "Brandon Shaw".)

Alfred Hitchcock directed more than 50 films -with "Rope", his first venture into the world of "Technicolor", resting among my personal "Top 10 Hitch Flicks". This Universal Home Video DVD comes recommended by this Hitchcock enthusiast.

Save 43% Off

No comments:

Post a Comment